Friday, June 24, 2022
Dedicated students, distinguished colleagues and dear friends,
I submit that the most essential element of growth and progress is freedom! Without it, there is no opportunity, regardless of potential or ability. It is unimaginable not to be allowed to learn, to read, to write, to work, to earn a living, or to plan a future. It is unfathomable today to be considered property and not a person!
Earlier this week we celebrated a national holiday: Juneteenth, which commemorates the emancipation of enslaved people in the U.S. This emancipation came nearly 2 ½ years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, and it promised the opportunity for the newly freed slaves to recognize and realize their potential and achieve remarkable feats.
The national scene, both today and historically, is rich with African American scientists, engineers, inventors, discoverers, military heroes, business leaders and vanguards of new paths and frontiers. Here at S&T, we also have our share of successful African Americans who have overcome circumstances of adversity. As a university, we have also come a long way from the darker days of discrimination and imposition of limitations. We remember and must remember the days of George Horne and Elmer Bell Jr., the first two African Americans to enroll in our university in 1950, and must never forget the hardships and prejudices they faced simply because of their desire to pursue an S&T education. Nor should we forget the adversity faced by our first Black graduate of engineering, Lelia Thompson Flagg, who persevered in the face of hardship – not only as an African American but also as a woman – to earn her civil engineering degree in 1960. These alumni, and many others, broke through the barriers they faced and created opportunities for future students.
Some of our other barrier-breaking Black alumni include:
This list, of course, is woefully incomplete and merely serves as an example of the many S&T graduates of color who have succeeded in their domains.
It is true that, as a campus, we have not fully achieved our aspirational goals of diversity and inclusivity. It is also true that as a society, we are no longer segregated, but we are not fully integrated either. Most certainly, we aren’t where we were in the recent past. We have made great strides and that is a wonderful sign of hope, and an essential element of growth and progress in this social endeavor of increasing importance.
Recognizing how far we have come, and what we have yet to achieve, will fuel our aspirations to become the truly integrated, diverse and welcoming university that we all desire.
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